For the introduction and chapter one, click here.
For chapter nine, click here.
Sleep was long in coming for most who sought it. Longer still was the coming of the morning for those intrepid five whose vigil was long and arduous. The first hours had been tense, until the four saw that Vincent displayed no fear, so confident was he that the wolf would not made good time in approaching Littledon.
Comforted by this, the patrol became tedious. Slowly, they’d grown used to the odd appearance of the land in the night. Taking care to hold the torches high and refrain from looking directly at them, the lay of the land, by gradation, lost its mystery to their eyes. Presently the identities of the houses they passed acquired names from their daylight memory.
The anxious edge wore off as weariness wore on. Stars crept across the sky, and the moon dodged in and out of wispy clouds. Now and again, the gentle bleating of sheep stirred for a few moments, until the animals fell back into slumber. How the men envied them!
Pushing on though, they walked briskly to keep awake and also to keep their warmth about them, for the night was chilly. Fortune was with them, suppressing the usual breeze that skirted up and over the hills, drawing frigid air from the grassy marshlands down through the streets.
But at long last, the sky brightened, signaling the end of the patrol. They extinguished their torches, well into the third burnt by each man that night. Their arrival into Littledon proper was accompanied by the sun making its climb over the hills and casting the first rays through the morning mists.
First, Vincent dismissed the four who’d kept watch with him, even as they were all a few years older than he. They were happy to have received some recompense for the watch, happier still that nothing had come of it, as fighting shadowy wolves in the dark was a nightmare indeed.
Before heading off to slumber himself, Vincent Conn paid a visit to Mayor Kinglsey to inform him of the quietness that had not changed overnight. The mayor was happy with that news, though he speculated the wolf might make its move in the dishonest comfort of daylight. And in evidence, he commented that Vincent had seen the first wolf at its operations in the morning.
Haggard and worn, Vincent agreed to this possibility and informed the mayor that he would make rounds to the farmers around Littledon and beseech their watchfulness. In the bathing light of morning, a patrol could eye but a fraction of territory that could be watched by all.
The mayor positively marveled at this earnestness to duty, and for a moment he forgot all about his annoyances of the previous day. For he had resolved to put Vincent Conn in his place, some way or other, though nothing concrete had yet come to his mind. Vincent Conn had given two speeches without leave of the mayor, and even worse, had left the mayor in the crowd, as part of the common rabble! As though station were of no concern whatever! The mayor had laid to pillow a head filled with anger at this very young man.
However, he heartily latched onto Vincent’s suggestion that the mayor inform the town of the uninterrupted patrol. The mayor also decided that the talk of wolves was much too stressful upon the people. He would organize that second festival in confidence that the encroaching wolf would be handled with dispatch, and whatever happened with regard to wolves on the prowl, the people would enjoy themselves and make praises to the mayor for his generosity and his wisdom.
Vincent went his way, and the mayor went his.
All about town, people spoke of the events. This was much more exciting than those conversations which had come before. Now they knew with complete certainty that a wolf was on the loose. Back came all of those speculations that wolves were about, but were too wily to see.
“Did I not tell you?” cried Mr. Tunstall to no one in particular, nearly every person attending to his conversation being in frightful agreement with him. “Did I not make the very case that more’n a single mangy beast was behind this business?”
All nodded solemn agreement, swallowing tea and terror.
Happening upon the exchange just then, Mr. Lawson looked upon the man with bitter eyes and doubt. “What business be that, Mr. Tunstall?”
“Why! I’d known from the first, no lone animal could ha’ managed what done by our flocks! Two in the least, said I, and says I now, perhaps more!” Mr. Tunstall turned his withered, aged eyes across the people, drinking in their nods of agreement.
“Far be it a wolf uncaught to take itself back out so distant to snack on hares when it’s had sheep a-plenty,” responded Mr. Lawson coolly. “And o;’course, there is the obvious matter that no sheep’ve gone missing, this quarter year, exceptin’ those which were recovered, I attest.”
While these were uncontestable truths, they were not so amenable to the natural fears and furies of the human heart. Fears and furies especially stirred when mixed in whole societies sweating of fear and bleeding of fury.
Thus are some who’d never volunteer for duty firstly, readier to volunteer for duty after someone has first done so. The same, those who in usual times keep level heads and wits about them, may have wits roll out of heads put off kilter by the failure of others to maintain their good sense. Mobs in panic decidedly do not trend to orderly resolution.
Confronted by these obvious facts as stated by Mr. Lawson, and yet unwilling to adopt them so as to save the effort and humility of adaptation, Mr. Tunstall fell upon the other obvious fact which could scarcely be ignored; that a wolf of terrible strength and power was very possibly on its way to wreak havoc among the flocks, and perhaps even endanger any man foolish enough to be wandering about without the protection of accompaniment.
Mr. Lawson shook his head and rolled his eyes. He knew of this fact as well, but the testimony of one wolf did not substantiate the existence of many. Wise counsel would advise plans for the worst of events, but hopes for the best of situations.
“What good have we in dwelling upon the worst of possibilities?” he asked them. “Look here, Tunstall and all you others, if there is danger, let us make preparation for it, rather than sit by and do nothing but build upon terrors until they become too great in our minds to chance facing in the world of the here and the now and the real! Readiness does not multiply the horrors of the known, and it may fraction the horrors of the unknown.”
These words were dismissed as the foolish notions of a baker whose ancestors had not been warriors at all. Mr. Lawson’s family had settled from a distant city into Littledon when the baker had been only a crawling child. Such common blood could not be trusted with matters so weighty. Better to leave it to those like Mr. Tunstall, the mayor, Mr. Conn, and his boy.
These were true men, the people agreed with Mr. Tunstall; men that had real warrior spirit and the blood of generals and kings in their veins. From there, the discussion turned to admiration of Vincent Conn, whose selflessness and perspicacity were unparalleled by any other in this matter.
Shaking his head again, Mr. Lawson abandoned Mr. Tunstall’s presence.